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May's in December - Imelda rocks out in festive fare


Imelda May live at the 3 Arena,Dublin.

Imelda May live at the 3 Arena,Dublin.

Imelda May live at the 3 Arena,Dublin.

“Ow, ow!” Imelda May there, settling in with a tribal howl.

Ow, ow!” Imelda May there, settling in with a tribal howl. “I love saying this bit . . . hello Dublin!” And hello to you too, Imelda – always nice to welcome home the Liberties Queen of Rockabilly around the festive season. A near-sold-out 3Arena suggests a lot of other folk feel the same. “And welcome to all the culchies!” she says. Wahey!

It’s eight months since her fourth album, Tribal, did the business both here and in the UK, taking Imelda and her men on a tour that started in Vicar Street and ended up all over the world. But nothing beats “the O2, Point, 3Arena” (yes, Imelda, the name-changes are starting to get confusing for everyone).

True, she and the bequiffed gent dressed like Gene Vincent (Darrel Higham, her guitarist husband) appear a little jaded at first, and the rest of the boys in the band could probably do with a bit of time off, but hey, world tours knock it out of you. Give ’em a few songs and they’ll wake up.

Four-string player Al Gare will get down and dirty with his huge double bass. Drummer Steve Rushton will show us exactly why Imelda (40) nicknamed him Animal. And yes, trumpeter Dave Priseman is still wearing his beloved striped shirts. The Imelda May arena showcase throws a few surprises our way, though.

There’s an entertaining video courtesy of filmmaker Jenny Keogh (Story Bud?), where residents of Dublin break down a little city centre slang for the audience. The Clew Bay Pipe Band makes another appearance. Renowned British guitarist Jeff Beck shows up. Wait – Jeff Beck is here? Wow. We weren’t expecting that.

A friend and long-time supporter of May, Beck and the guys rock it out, adding some Yuletide cheer with a super rendition of Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).

Imelda’s vocal is impeccable this evening, and the catalogue sparkles with various rockin’ odes to wild women, big bad handsome men and wicked devils. Sweet brass, glorious riffs and super percussion – they’ve got it all covered, this lot, and musicianship throughout is impressively tight.

Imelda looks a million dollars too in a sparkling red dress and gold heels. Is she better suited to the smaller venues? Probably, but we sure do appreciate the effort to make this rambunctious offering as crisp, clean and intimate as possible.

It helps that Imelda’s storytelling skills continue to shine (she recalls a visit to an Irish store in Philadelphia where the owner presumed that bodhrans were merely ornaments. Silly store owners).

Yep, Imelda bangs her drum aloud. Raising a glass of red and wishing us well, she also reminds us of her sharp humour. “That’s for medicinal purposes only,” she says, grinning. Sure thing. Cracking stuff, Imelda. Happy Christmas – same time next year? HHHHI